Catholic Montessori is countercultural in many ways.
A Montessori principle that was completely out of my growing-up experience was Friendliness to Error.
Attitudes from School
From attending a parochial P-8 school and then a prestigious Catholic college prep school for girls, here are a few ideas ingrained into my mind and reinforced by my upbringing:
- Grades and class rank are the most important measures of success
- Anything less than perfection – i.e., no mistakes – is not acceptable
- Public recognition of achievement matters more than the personal satisfaction and joy of learning
- If you likely won’t come in first in a competition, there is no point in competing. Find something in which you can be first.
Basically, I learned the attitude, “First place is all that matters. Second place means being the first loser.”
Deal with fewer tantrums in 3 days (or less!)
These ideas had rather nasty side effects:
- Since grades and class rank were the most important measures of success, cheating was rampant in the schools I attended
- Since mistakes weren’t acceptable, classmates developed high anxiety and/or depression over anything less than 100% on an assignment
- Since public recognition was valued over learning, students crammed to score high grades on the test but rarely retained the knowledge the following semester
- When first place seemed out of reasonable reach, students became afraid to even try new things
With this as my backdrop, error became to me something to be hated, feared, and avoided at all costs – certainly not something that evoked friendliness, of all things!
The Montessori approach
As a homeschooling mom, the goal for my children is understanding of the material they’re studying. Grades, such as automatically calculated in an online math course, are helpful to me as a measure of understanding. Grades are a guide, not a goal.
Even with this approach towards grades, Friendliness to Error is an attitude I have to actively encourage in our children. They naturally want to do well, so they hate making mistakes. I keep reminding our children that mistakes can be helpful when we take the time to learn from them, rather than just be grumpy about messing up.
More powerful, though, than reminding them in words, is the example of my own behavior – how I respond to mistakes made by myself or by them. Montessori’s words reflect the instruction of St. Francis de Sales: